You can’t separate evangelism from total commitment to the Bible. Here’s why.
Some years ago, I had the unique opportunity to interview Thom Rainer about his understanding of evangelism in our rapidly changing world. In preparation, I read three of his books including the fascinating and provocative Surprising Insights From the Unchurched and Proven Ways to Reach Them. In his research, Thom and his team had interacted with a host of nonbelievers to learn how they viewed the church and Christians.
Among the many insights the book offers, the most surprising to me was that nonbelievers care about what Christians actually believe. They want to know that we believe what we say we believe. Our doctrine matters to those who are considering coming to our churches and even more to those who are open to following Jesus.
If nonbelievers are looking to meet some nice people, there is a good chance they will join an affinity group rather than a church. Most churches don’t offer a vast array of amenities. On top of that, a biblical church calls people to serve humbly, give generously, follow Jesus radically and sacrifice everything. Unless we believe in something worth living for (and dying for), many people who are spiritually curious will walk right past our churches.
WE MUST BELIEVE THE BIBLE
Churches that want to have an impact on their community need to live with confidence that the Bible is God’s Word from start to finish. While we need to do effective interpretation and read the text in context, believing the Holy Spirit breathed the entire Bible is essential. We should not be embarrassed or ashamed of what the Bible teaches. Rather, we can dig in deeper and grapple with what God is saying.
In the past, and in recent days, there have been Christians who seek to apologize for the Bible or deemphasize certain texts, teachings or portions of it. In some cases, they even claim that this process will make the Christianity faith more palatable and irresistible. Sadly, this position does not forward the gospel as some hope, but instead undermines the message of God’s Word. In an effort to make the faith more attractive and the Bible more agreeable, they can toss out the proverbial baby with the bath water.
Churches that want to reach those who are far from Jesus need to know why they hold to the Bible as God’s Word. If we don’t believe the Bible is true, inspired, authoritative and relevant, our witness will be dramatically compromised. If spiritually curious people discover—and they will—that we don’t really believe the book that is supposed to be the bedrock of our faith, why should they?
WE MUST READ THE BIBLE
Believing that the Bible is true is just the start—we also need to be people of the Word of God. Teaching people to love and learn from the Bible is critical. Learning the Scriptures is transformational; loving God’s Word and reflecting deeply on the truth it unveils is powerful.
Pastors are wise to teach Jesus followers to read the Bible seriously, daily and studiously. At the church I serve, we provide a daily reading guide online and in the bulletin that is designed for every day of the year. It gives seven days of reading that prepares people for the upcoming sermon.
My church also has gone through The Story (a 32-week chronological reading through the Bible) and the New Testament using a Bible reading program. In addition, we encourage daily reading of the Bible for children, teens and adults.
WE MUST LIVE THE BIBLE
Our Christian witness is strengthened or undermined based on how well we apply the Bible to our daily life. In James we are exhorted to “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive ourselves.” Rather, we are called to “do what it says” (James 1:22). The world is watching and wonders if our faith can actually transform and shape our lives. The truth is, when the Holy Spirit of God empowers us to live according to the Word, we stand out in a good way.
I had been a Christian for less than a year and was reading the Bible daily. As I studied what God was saying and how it applied to the world and to my life in particular, I was moved by the consistent call to humble service.
At the time I was a waiter and had discovered that there was a hierarchy in the food services industry. The food prep people and those who bussed the tables were on the bottom, so they stayed late to clean up and prepare for the next day. The Bible passages I was reading, combined with the conviction of the Holy Spirit, moved me to help them.
It astounded me how many spiritual conversations I had as the team that was required to do these chores asked me why I was staying to work without pay. I told them what God was teaching me through his Word. This led to deeper friendships and organic moments of telling people about Jesus.
WE MUST SHARE THE BIBLE
I got my first Bible from my youth leader, who said, “This is the Word of God, it is true, you are supposed to read it.” So I did.
I went to the youth leader a few months later and said, “I’m done with the book you gave me. What should I read next?” He looked at me a bit confused. “How far did you get?” I told him I finished the whole thing. He gave me my next step on my discipleship journey in relationship to the Bible: “Read it again!” That’s what I have been doing ever since.
I was 16 years old and had never read any of the Bible. It was when I got to the Gospel of Luke and read the Christmas narrative that I found the only part of the Bible that was familiar to me. I had heard it as a child each year when we watched A Charlie Brown Christmas. My first thought was that Luke had stolen the lines from Linus.
Did I understand everything I read? Of course not. Were there things that confused me? Definitely. The truth is, I have been a Christian for 40 years and a pastor for over three decades, and I still don’t understand everything in the Bible. But reading it over and over again has transformed my life, unleashed heavenly truth in my soul and shaped who I am today.
My first Bible, to this day, was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. Every church I have served in has made it a priority to give free Bibles to anyone who wants one. We also keep some good study Bibles that we can give away or sell at cost to those who want to dig deeper into God’s Word. I would encourage your church to do the same.
I know there are Christians today, even some pastors, who are nervous about the Bible. The Scriptures say some tough things that are not culturally acceptable. It is an ancient book that takes time to read and understand within its historical context.
If we jettison the Bible, unhinge from parts of it (be that specific texts or the whole Old Testament), or act embarrassed about what it teaches, evangelism will be compromised. Organic outreach and the Bible can’t be separated. As we believe in the Bible’s authority, read it faithfully, follow its teachings and share it, evangelism will increase, for the glory of the God who has given us his Word.